In support of the many events taking place in April—Jane’s Walk, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation house tours, the 50th anniversary of the landmarking of most of the Greenwich Village District on April 29, 1969—we return to our beautiful Washington Square Park (WSP). The changes here, when considered in the broad scope of history, have been remarkable. Briefly, the land of WSP was a “potter’s field” burial ground for the city beginning in 1797, was turned into a military parade ground in 1826, then into a landscaped city park with diagonal walkways in 1848. The first fountain was added in 1852, and there have been at least three major layout changes since, plus several more minor revisions. Besides sinking the fountain plaza lower than the roadway around it, Robert Moses proposed a multilevel thoroughfare for traffic that would have consumed even more park space. Thanks to community protests, that idea was stopped and an “experiment” to close off traffic in the park was tried instead.
THEN: Busses in the park! This 1949 photograph taken from the roof of the Arch shows the fountain installed in 1872, moved here from its previous location in Central Park. This one replaced an 1852 bluestone fountain of much larger size, about 100’ in diameter—too big for “Boss” Tweed’s Public Parks addition of a “carriage drive,” which bisected the park, connecting Fifth Avenue to Thompson Street and West Broadway. In 1934 Robert Moses added the steps to make this into a wading pool (as shown above). Judson Memorial Church, ca.1888, is in the background, at West Fourth and Thompson Streets. Credit: New York Public Library Archives
NOW: The 2009 – 2014 park renovation started with rebuilding the fountain pipes and restoring the broken stones of the 1872 fountain and wading pool. This recent photograph taken from the roof of the Arch shows the 1872 fountain and the new plaza paving. A walkway now leads south to Thompson Street and the Judson Church on West Fourth Street. Now that traffic is banned from the park, the full scope of pedestrian enjoyment can be appreciated by the millions of visitors every year, and grassy and landscaped areas have been increased in this plan. Even bike and skateboard riding are prohibited. Photo Credit: Brian J. Pape, AIA.